Netherlands declares national day of mourning for MH17 victims

Posted at 07/23/14 10:40 AM

Relatives, friends and sympathizers leave flowers and messages at the entrance of the Departure 3 of the Schiphol Airport where the ill-fated MH17 took off. Photo by Robin Kujis

THE HAGUE – The Netherlands declared July 23 (Wednesday) as the national day of mourning for the over a hundred Dutch passengers on board the Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 shot down by missiles in Ukraine.

The attack on July 17 killed 298 people on board the plane, including 193 passengers from The Netherlands. Among those killed were Dutch Senator Willem Witteveen and his family, as well as an Indonesian-Filipino family of four.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte together with King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima join families of the victims for the arrival of a plane carrying the remains at the Eindhoven Military Airport.

The bodies will be transported to the army compound of the Korporaal Van Oudheusdenkazerne in Hilversum for identification. Their next of kin will be notified once the body has been identified.

Flags in government offices and houses flew at half-mast and the arrival of the plane will be marked by a trumpet signal. Afterwards, a five-minute silence will be observed throughout the whole country.

"If it had been just another tragedy it would also be terrible but this is very intense and vicious. How can this happen? This whole war [there] is senseless and everyone is just helpless in this situation,” said Ellen Ebbing, who joined thousands of Dutch people who offered flowers at the Departure 3 of Schiphol Airport where flight MH17 took off.

Memorial books were also opened in Schiphol where relatives, friends and sympathizers lined up to leave their message of sympathy for the victims' families.


Flowers and candles were also laid out at the front door of the Gunawan family home in Amstelveen. Photo by Robin Kujis

Filipina Irene Gunawan, her Indonesian husband Budy, and their children Sherryl Shania and Darryl Dwight, were among the fatalities. The family was on their way to the Philippines for a reunion.

At their home in Amstelveen, flowers and candles are also laid out at their front door.

When the news of the crash broke out, Citas Cid was among those glued on television. She already had an eerie feeling about the crash, knowing that it is vacation period in the Netherlands and that the family of her friend Irene always takes Malaysia Airlines to go home to the Philippines. Budy worked for the airline company.

Cid and the Gunawans have been friends since 1980s when the couple was still a part of the Lipstick band that toured Europe and had regular gigs in Amsterdam from 1986.

"It’s shocking, very unexpected. These last few days I was even thinking of visiting them again pero that is the first and the last then. There’s a lot of good memories, when we were in the band, lahat ng kalokohan the Lipstick and everything, all the happenings from the Rembrandtplein in 1968, those were the days,” said Cid.

Another family friend, Dutch Pieter Overbeeke heard the news while on the car. "When I got home nag-open ako ng Facebook account tapos nakita ko yung message ng mutual friends natin. I was crying here alone, it was already midnight local time. Grabe very hard to say in words, tragic, absolutely,” he said.

They said that the Gunawans were a very sweet family and their kids were very intelligent.


A mass was held in Amsterdam on July 20, Sunday, for the Gunawan family. Photo by Robin Kujis

Last Sunday, July 20, a mass was offered for the Gunawan family in Amsterdam attended by friends, neighbors and acquaintances.

Boy Balmaceda, a bowling buddy of the Gunawans, still cannot believe that the family is dead. He hopes that their bodies would be brought back to the Netherlands as soon as possible.

"Sana ay ma-recover na ang kanilang mga labi, yun ang kanilang priority gaya ng mga Dutch. Dahil tayong mga Pilipino ay masyadong dedicated sa ating mga kaibigan, kahit anong itsura nun eh sana maiuwi natin sa Pilipinas," said Balmaceda.


Reports that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile have caused fear to many airline passengers.

Nanding Rubio, former manager of Philippine Airlines in the Netherlands when the country’s carrier was still flying here, was also deeply saddened by the event. He also expressed fear for long-haul passengers.

"It’s very sad. I remember my passengers way back when I was still working for PAL. Kami kasing mga Pilipino dito sa Holland, once or twice a year umuuwi kami ng Pilipinas through long-range flight so nakakatakot," said Rubio.

Elma Balmaceda who works in a travel agency said that they have already received several cancelations due to the incident.

Rubio appeals to governments to strengthen protection for airline passengers, especially those taking long-haul flights.

"Pero sa aking mga kababayan, we should continue hoping that there will be protection and safety sa aviation industry especially doon sa mga airlines na pumupunta sa ating bansa. Sana itong lahat ng mga bansang involve dito ay magkaisa para mabigyan ng kalunasan hindi lang yung nangyari lalo na sa families of the victim.”